!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'April 6-20, 1973: Dean Begins Cooperating with Watergate Prosecutors'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event April 6-20, 1973: Dean Begins Cooperating with Watergate Prosecutors. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

White House counsel John Dean warns President Nixon of a “cancer on the presidency.” When this phrase enters the public dialogue, it is popularly misremembered as Dean warning Nixon about the ill effects of the Watergate conspiracy on the Nixon presidency. Instead, Dean is warning Nixon about the deleterious effects of the blackmail efforts being carried out against the White House by the convicted Watergate burglars (see June 20-21, 1972). In a conversation secretly taped by Nixon, Dean says, “We have a cancer within, close to the Presidency, that is growing. Basically it is because we are being blackmailed.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007]
Cancer Should 'Be Removed Immediately' - In later testimony to the Senate Watergate Investigative Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), Dean states his words somewhat differently: “I began by telling the president that there was a cancer growing on the presidency and that if the cancer was not removed, that the president himself would be killed by it. I also told him that it was important that this cancer be removed immediately because it was growing more deadly every day.” Dean then tells Nixon virtually the entire story of the Watergate conspiracy, noting his discussions with other conspirators about the prospective wiretapping of the Democrats—particularly Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy and campaign officials John Mitchell and Jeb Magruder—and tells Nixon that he had reported the plans to Nixon’s top aide, H. R. Haldeman. He had participated in paying off the burglars to remain silent, and had coached Magruder to perjure himself before the Watergat grand jury (see April 14-18, 1973). Dean will testify: “I concluded by saying that it is going to take continued perjury and continued support of these individuals to perpetuate the cover-up and that I did not believe that it was possible to so continue it. Rather, all those involved must stand up and account for themselves and the president himself must get out in front.” But, Dean will testify, Nixon refuses to countenance Dean’s advice, and instead sets up a meeting with Dean, Haldeman, Mitchell, and his other top aide, John Ehrlichman. Nixon hopes that Mitchell will agree to take the blame for the Watergate wiretapping, and thusly quell the public uproar (Mitchell will refuse). Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and Dean meet a second time that afternoon, a meeting which Dean will later describe as another “tremendous disappointment.” He will testify, “It was quite clear that the cover-up as far as the White House was concerned was going to continue.” He will testify that he believes both Haldeman and Ehrlichman, and himself, are indictable for obstruction of justice, and that “it was time that everybody start thinking about telling the truth.” However, both aides “were very unhappy with my comments.” [Time, 7/9/1973] Dean tells Nixon that to save his presidency, he and his closest aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman are going to have to testify and most likely go to jail. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 304]
Blackmail Payoffs - Between the blackmail and the almost-certainty that White House officials are going to start perjuring themselves, Dean concludes that the problem is critical. Convicted burglar E. Howard Hunt wants another $72,000 for what he is calling personal expenses and $50,000 more for attorneys’ fees. Hunt directly threatened aides John Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh (see July 20, 1971) with his testimony, saying that, Dean reports, “I have done enough seamy things for he and Krogh that they’ll never survive it.” Hunt is threatening to reveal the story behind the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971) and, in Dean’s words, “other things. I don’t know the full extent of it.” Nixon asks, “How much money do you need?” Dean replies, “I would say these people are going to cost a million dollars over the next two years.” Nixon muses, “You could get a million dollars. You could get it in cash. I know where it could be gotten. I mean it’s not easy but it could be done.” The money can be raised, Nixon says, but the idea of any presidential pardons for anyone is out. Nixon learns from his secretary, Rose Mary Woods, that their secret campaign fund still has over $100,000. That evening, Hunt is given $75,000 in cash. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 577-578; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Hunt will eventually receive $120,000, almost the exact amount he demands. [Reston, 2007, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Richard M. Nixon, Rose Mary Woods, John Mitchell, Nixon administration, John Dean, John Ehrlichman, E. Howard Hunt, H.R. Haldeman, Egil Krogh

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean begins cooperating with the Watergate prosecutors. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] Dean has already been asked to resign and has refused, fearing that President Nixon and his top aides will try to pin the blame for Watergate on him. Shortly after agreeing to cooperate with the investigation, Dean issues a statement making it clear that he is unwilling to be a “scapegoat in the Watergate case.” [Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] According to an associate of Dean’s, when Dean told Nixon that he and aides H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman would have to go to jail to protect the presidency (see March 21, 1973), Nixon seemed resigned to the possibility. But shortly thereafter, Haldeman and Ehrlichman convinced Nixon that Dean could be the “fall guy” for the entire White House. “Instead of agreeing to cooperate, they are still telling [Nixon] that John should walk the plank for all of them. [Nixon] is ready to give John the final shove.” A Nixon campaign official will verify the Dean associate’s account, and say that Dean wanted to be honest, but was following orders from Haldeman and Ehrlichman. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 305] Dean will soon begin sharing evidence that implicates Haldeman and Ehrlichman in the Watergate conspiracy (see June 25-29, 1973). [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]

Entity Tags: John Dean, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

White House counsel John Dean meets with President Nixon to discuss his upcoming testimony before the Watergate grand jury (see April 6-20, 1973). Dean apologizes for not telling Nixon himself (Nixon had learned of Dean’s intent to testify from the Justice Department—see April 6-20, 1973). Dean agrees not to talk about “national security” matters such as the indiscriminate wiretapping the White House has had the FBI perform. Nixon also says that “he had, of course, only been joking” when he the remark he made earlier to Dean about being able to provide $1 million in “hush money” to the Watergate burglars (see March 21, 1973). According to later testimony by Dean (see June 25-29, 1973), during the meeting, Nixon “went behind his chair to the corner of the office and in a nearly inaudible tone said to me he was probably foolish to have discussed Hunt’s clemency with Colson” (see March 21, 1973). Dean concludes by saying that he hopes nothing he’s done will “result in the impeachment of the President.” According to Dean’s testimony, Nixon replies jokingly, “I certainly hope so also.” Both men are stilted and formal; Nixon knows he is being tape-recorded for posterity (see July 13-16, 1973), and Dean suspects the taping. The White House will contend that Dean’s version of events is wrong, and that Nixon tells Dean he has to testify without immunity. The audiotapes later show that Dean’s version of events is accurate. [Time, 7/9/1973; Reeves, 2001, pp. 587-588]

Entity Tags: John Dean, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward interviews a senior presidential aide to talk about the explosive testimony of White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973 and April 24, 1973). The aide says that Dean will implicate Richard Nixon in the Watergate cover-up. “I’m not sure” what Dean has, the aide says. “I’m not sure it is evidence.” The aide is visibly upset. “The president’s lawyer is going to say that the president is… well, a felon.” He asks Woodward to leave. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 308]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Bob Woodward, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon formally asks for and receives the resignations of two of his most senior advisers, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (see April 16-17, 1973 and April 24, 1973), along with Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. In addition, he fires White House counsel John Dean, who has begun cooperating with Watergate investigators (see April 6-20, 1973).
Replacements - Kleindienst is replaced by Defense Secretary Elliot Richardson, whom Nixon tasks with the responsibility for “uncovering the whole truth” about the Watergate scandal. Richardson will be given “absolute authority” in handling the Watergate investigation, including the authority to appoint a special prosecutor to supervise the government’s case (see April 30, 1973). Dean is replaced temporarily by Nixon’s personal lawyer Leonard Garment.
Additional Resignation - Also, Gordon Strachan, the general counsel to the United States Information Agency (USIA), resigns. Strachan is a former aide to Haldeman, and, according to a USIA statement, resigned “after learning that persons with whom he had worked closely at the White House had submitted their resignations.”
Lawmakers' Comments - Senate Majority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) says of the resignations: “[A] lack of grace in power has led to a fall from grace. This rotten vine of Watergate has produced poisonous fruit, and all nourished by it should be cast out of the Garden of Eden.” House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-MI) says the resignations are “a necessary first step by the White House in clearing the air on the Watergate affair.… I have the greatest confidence in the president and I am absolutely positive he had nothing to with this mess.” Representative John Moss (D-CA) says the House must prepare itself to deal with the possibility of impeachment, but “before we even suggest impeachment, we must have the most uncontroverted evidence.” In their letters of resignation, Haldeman and Ehrlichman promise to cooperate with the Justice Department investigation of Watergate. [Washington Post, 5/1/1973]
Reaction at the Washington Post - Knight Newspapers reporter James McCartney later writes an article for the Columbia Journalism Review on the Post’s Watergate coverage, which describes the reaction in the Post offices to the news: “For a split second [executive editor] Ben Bradlee’s mouth dropped open with an expression of sheer delight.… ‘How do you like them apples?’ he said to the grinning Simons [managing editor Howard Simons]. ‘Not a bad start.’” As reporters and employees begin gathering around, Simons murmurs: “Don’t gloat. We can’t afford to gloat.” [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 310]

Entity Tags: United States Information Agency, Richard M. Nixon, Washington Post, Richard Kleindienst, Leonard Garment, Ben Bradlee, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Gordon Strachan, John Moss, Elliot Richardson, Howard Simons, Hugh Scott, John Ehrlichman, John Dean, James McCartney, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin.John Dean being sworn in by committee chairman Sam Ervin. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]In five days of explosive testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee, former White House counsel John Dean claims that President Nixon was personally involved with the cover-up of the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 3, 1973) within days of the crime. Dean gives a seven-hour opening statement detailing a program of political and campaign espionage activities conducted by the White House in recent years. He also tells the committee that he believes Nixon has tape-recorded some of the conversations regarding the Watergate conspiracy (see July 13-16, 1973). Dean tells the committee that he has White House documents detailing elements of the conspiracy in a safe-deposit box, and has given the keys to that box to Judge John Sirica, the judge overseeing the Watergate prosecutions. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007; Spartacus Schoolnet, 8/2007] Dean, described by Time Magazine as “owlish” and speaking “in a lifeless monotone,” nevertheless displays “impressive poise and a masterly memory” as he “sp[ins] his detailed web of evidence. He readily admit[s] his own illegal and improper acts. But he emerge[s] unshaken from five full days of recital and cross examination, with his basic story challenged but intact.” Without a convincing rebuttal, it would be difficult for either the committee or the nation to believe that Nixon “was not an active and fully aware participant in the Watergate cover-up, as Dean charged.”
Implicates Nixon Aides - While Dean admits that he had no first-hand knowledge of Nixon’s complicity until September 1972, he directly implicates Nixon’s two most senior aides at the time, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, of what Time calls “multiple actions in the Watergate coverup,” as well as former Nixon campaign chairman John Mitchell.
White House-Sourced Questioning of Dean Backfires - An initial White House attempt at rebutting Dean’s testimony, consisting of a statement and a list of questions drawn up by White House counsel Fred Buzhardt, are “easily handled” by Dean, and even backfires, to the point where the White House disavows any involvement in the material, saying that they were “Buzhardt’s friendly personal contribution to the proceedings.” The questions attempt to portray Dean as the “mastermind” behind the Watergate conspiracy, with Mitchell his “patron.” Time writes, “Creating a constitutional crisis almost alone, the Buzhardt statement in effect charge[s], Dean and Mitchell kept the truth of all that concealed for some nine months from such shrewd White House officials as H. R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, Charles W. Colson—and the president.” But few on the committee find Buzhardt’s contention believable, considering the increasing amount of evidence to the contrary.
Testimony Details 'Climate of Fear' at White House - As yet much of Dean’s testimony remains uncorroborated, but, Time writes: “even if those facts leave many unconvinced of Nixon’s complicity in Watergate, Dean’s dismaying description of the climate of fear existing within the Nixon White House is almost as alarming as the affair that it spawned. With little regard for the law and under repeated proddings by the president himself. Dean contended, the Nixon staff used or contemplated using almost any available tactic to undermine political opponents, punish press critics, subdue antiwar protesters and gather political intelligence, including lists of ‘enemies’” (see June 27, 1973). Overall, Dean says, the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) was “the first act in a great American tragedy” and he finds it “very difficult” to testify about what others, including “men I greatly admire and respect,” had done. He finds it easier to admit to his own crimes. [Time, 7/9/1973]

Entity Tags: John Sirica, John Dean, Richard M. Nixon, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address.August 16, 1972 front page of the Washington Post, reporting on Nixon’s address. [Source: Southern Methodist University]President Nixon delivers his second prime-time televised speech about Watergate to the nation. He says that both the Senate investigations have focused more on trying to “implicate the president personally in the illegal activities that took place,” and reminds listeners that he has already taken “full responsibility” for the “abuses [that] occurred during my administration” (see April 30, 1973). But in light of the increasing evidence being revealed about the Watergate conspiracy, Nixon’s speech is later proven to be a compilation of lies, half-truths, justifications, and evasions.
'No Prior Knowledge' - He again insists that “I had no prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in; I neither took part in nor knew about any of the subsequent cover-up activities; I neither authorized nor encouraged subordinates to engage in illegal or improper campaign tactics. That was and that is the simple truth.” He says that in all the Senate testimony, “there is not the slightest suggestion that I had any knowledge of the planning for the Watergate break-in.” He says only one witness has challenged his statement under oath, referring to former White House counsel John Dean (see April 6-20, 1973) and June 25-29, 1973), and says Dean’s “testimony has been contradicted by every other witness in a position to know the facts.” Instead, says Nixon, he insisted from the outset that the investigation into the Watergate burglary be “thorough and aboveboard,” and if there were any evidence of “higher involvement, we should get the facts out first.” A cover-up would be unconscionable, he says. He again insists that he was told in September 1972 that an FBI investigation, “the most extensive investigation since the assassination of President Kennedy… had established that only those seven (see June 17, 1972) were involved.” Throughout, Nixon says, he relied on the reports of his staff members, Justice Department, and FBI officials, who consistently reassured him that there was no involvement by anyone in the White House in the burglaries. “Because I trusted the agencies conducting the investigations, because I believed the reports I was getting, I did not believe the newspaper accounts that suggested a cover-up. I was convinced there was no cover-up, because I was convinced that no one had anything to cover up.”
Internal Investigation - He didn’t realize that those assurances were wrong until March 21, when he “received new information from [Dean] that led me to conclude that the reports I had been getting for over nine months were not true.” He immediately launched an internal investigation (see August 29, 1972), initially relying on Dean to conduct the investigation, then turning the task over to his senior aide, John Ehrlichman, and to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst. The results prompted him to give the case to the Criminal Division of the Justice Department, ordering the complete cooperation of “all members of the administration.” He never tried to hide the facts, Nixon asserts, but instead has consistently tried “to discover the facts—and to lay those facts before the appropriate law enforcement authorities so that justice could be done and the guilty dealt with.”
Refusal to Turn over Tapes; 'Privileged' Communications - Nixon says he is resisting subpoenas to turn over the secret recordings he has had made of White House and other conversations (see July 13-16, 1973) because of “a much more important principle… than what the tapes might prove about Watergate.” A president must be able to talk “openly and candidly with his advisers about issues and individuals” without having those conversations ever made public. These are “privileged” conversations, he says, similar to those between a lawyer and his client or “a priest and a penitent.” The conversations between a president and his advisers, Nixon says, are “even more important.” The conversations on those tapes are “blunt and candid,” made without thought to any future public disclosure, and for future presidents and their advisers to know that their conversations and advice might one day be made public would cripple their ability to talk freely and offer unfettered opinions. “That is why I shall continue to oppose efforts which would set a precedent that would cripple all future presidents by inhibiting conversations between them and those they look to for advice,” he says. “This principle of confidentiality of presidential conversations is at stake in the question of these tapes. I must and I shall oppose any efforts to destroy this principle.”
'Hard and Tough' Politics - Watergate has come to encompass more than just a burglary, Nixon says, but has brought up issues of partisan politics, “enemy lists” (see June 27, 1973), and even threats to national security. Nixon has always run “hard and tough” political campaigns, but has never stepped outside the law and “the limits of decency” in doing so. “To the extent that these things were done in the 1972 campaign, they were serious abuses, and I deplore them,” he says. The “few overzealous people” involved in the Watergate burglary should not reflect on his administration or the political process as a whole. He will “ensure that one of the results of Watergate is a new level of political decency and integrity in America—in which what has been wrong in our politics no longer corrupts or demeans what is right in our politics.”
Legal Wiretapping to Protect the Nation - The measures he has taken to protect the security of the nation have all been within the law and with the intention of protecting the government from possible subversion and even overthrow, he asserts. The wiretaps he authorized had been legal, he says, until the 1972 decision by the Supreme Court that rejected such wiretaps as unlawful (see June 19, 1972). Until then, Nixon says, he—like his predecessors—had implemented such wiretaps “to protect the national security in the public interest.” Since the Supreme Court decision, he says, he has stopped all such surveillance efforts. But the law must be mindful of “tying the president’s hands in a way that would risk sacrificing our security, and with it all our liberties.” He will continue to “protect the security of this nation… by constitutional means, in ways that will not threaten [American] freedom.”
The Fault of the Radicals - He blames the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s as encouraging “individuals and groups… to take the law into their own hands,” often with the praise and support from the media and even from “some of our pulpits as evidence of a new idealism. Those of us who insisted on the old restraints, who warned of the overriding importance of operating within the law and by the rules, were accused of being reactionaries.” In the wake of this radical, anti-government atmosphere, the country was plagued by “a rising spiral of violence and fear, of riots and arson and bombings, all in the name of peace and in the name of justice. Political discussion turned into savage debate. Free speech was brutally suppressed as hecklers shouted down or even physically assaulted those with whom they disagreed. Serious people raised serious questions about whether we could survive as a free democracy.” That attitude permeated political campaigns, to the extent that “some persons in 1972 adopted the morality that they themselves had tightly condemned and committed acts that have no place in our political system… who mistakenly thought their cause justified their violations of the law.”
Looking Forward - It is time to put Watergate behind us, Nixon says, to abandon this “continued, backward-looking obsession with Watergate” and stop “neglect[ing] matters of far greater importance to all of the American people.… The time has come to turn Watergate over to the courts, where the questions of guilt or innocence belong. The time has come for the rest of us to get on with the urgent business of our nation.” [White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; White House, 8/15/1973; AMDOCS Documents for the Study of American History, 6/1993; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, John Dean, Richard Kleindienst, Richard M. Nixon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ehrlichman, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former White House counsel John Dean pleads guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice in regards to his role in the Watergate cover-up. In return for his continued cooperation with the FBI and the Senate Watergate Committee (see April 6-20, 1973), Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox grants Dean immunity from any further Watergate-related charges. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Archibald Cox, John Dean, Senate Watergate Investigative Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon still refuses to hand over the tapes subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski (see April 16, 1974). Instead, Nixon provides more edited transcripts of the tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. [Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Transcripts Prove His Innocence, Nixon Claims - A summary of the tapes, written by White House officials, says that the transcripts prove Nixon’s innocence. “In all of the thousands of words spoken,” the summary says, “even though they often are unclear and ambiguous, not once does it appear that the president of the United States was engaged in a criminal plot to obstruct justice.” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974] Shortly after the release of the transcripts, Nixon appears on television with a pile of looseleaf notebooks—the transcripts, which he says he has personally compiled—and says: “In these transcripts, portions not relevant to my knowledge or actions with regard to Watergate are not included, but everything that is relevant is included—the rough as well as the smooth—the strategy sessions, the exploration of alternatives, the weighing of human and political costs. As far as what the president personally knew and did with regard to Watergate and the cover-up is concerned, these materials—together with those already made available—will tell it all.… I want there to be no question remaining about the fact that the president has nothing to hide in this matter.” [White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; White House, 4/29/1974; Washington Post, 2007] “As far as the president’s role with regard to Watergate is concerned,” Nixon claims, “the entire story is there.” [Reeves, 2001, pp. 608] He rails against the idea of impeaching him (see February 6, 1974), saying that the charges are based on “[r]umor, gossip, innuendo, [and] accounts from unnamed sources,” and implicitly accuses former White House counsel John Dean of lying about his involvement in the Watergate cover-up (see April 6-20, 1973). The 18 ½ minute erasure on one of the key tape recordings (see November 21, 1973) is “a mystery” to him, Nixon asserts. The nation must move past Watergate to deal with more serious matters, he says. [Washington Post, 2007]
Reaction Divided - Reaction on Congress is divided largely along party lines. House Minority Leader John Rhodes (R-AZ) says the transcripts show Nixon is “in substantial compliance” with a Judiciary Committee subpoena. Speaker of the House Carl Albert (D-FL) has a different view: “Why substitute other evidence when the direct evidence [the actual tapes] is available?” [Washington Post, 5/1/1974]
Transcripts Heavily Edited, Doctored - It quickly becomes evident that the transcripts have been heavily edited and altered, both to clean up Nixon’s language and to cloak the details of the events documented in the tapes. Only 11 of the 64 conversations cited in the subpoenas are present, and those have been doctored. The term “expletive deleted” quickly enters the political and popular lexicon, and even with much of the profanity and ethnic slurs deleted, the impression given by the transcripts is not popular with the American people; in the words of reporter Mike Feinsilber, the transcripts show Nixon “as a vengeful schemer—rambling, undisciplined, mean-spirited and bigoted.” Even the edited transcripts document Nixon participating in discussions about raising blackmail money and “laundering” payments, offering clemency or parole to convicted Watergate figures, discussing how to handle perjury or obstruction of justice charges, and debating how best to use the term “national security” to advance his own personal and political agendas. In one conversation, Dean says that one of their biggest problems is that they are not “pros” at the kinds of activities they are engaging in: “This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do.” Nixon replies: “That’s right.… Maybe it takes a gang to do that.” The Judiciary Committee immediately joins the special prosecutor in demanding the actual tapes. [Washington Post, 5/1/1974; Houston Chronicle, 6/7/1999; Reeves, 2001, pp. 608]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, John Dean, Carl Albert, John Rhodes, Mike Feinsilber, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former President Richard Nixon is nearly 20 minutes late for his second Watergate interview with David Frost (see April 13-15, 1977 and April 13, 1977). Neither Frost nor his team of researchers realize how rattled Nixon is from the last session. Frost begins the interview by asking about the so-called “Dean report” (see March 20, 1973), the results of John Dean’s “internal investigation” of the Watergate conspiracy. Dean’s report would have served two purposes: it would hopefully have removed suspicion from any White House officials as to their involvement in the conspiracy, and, if it was ever pulled apart and shown to be a compendium of lies and evasion, would have pointed to Dean as the central figure in the conspiracy. Dean never wrote the report, but instead became a witness for the prosecution (see April 6-20, 1973. June 3, 1973, and June 25-29, 1973). Since Dean never wrote the report, Frost asks Nixon why he told the deputy attorney general, Henry Peterson, that there was indeed such a report (Nixon had called it “accurate but not full”). Astonishingly, Nixon asserts that Dean did write the report, and that it indeed showed no “vulnerability or criminality on the part of the president… so let’s not get away from that fact.” Frost sees Nixon’s vulnerability. Frost asks when he read the report. Caught, Nixon backs off of his assertion, saying that he “just heard that ah… that he had written a report… ah… the… that… ah… he… ah… ah, considered it to be inadequate.” Frost researcher James Reston, Jr. later writes, “[Nixon] was firmly skewered. His face showed it. His gibberish confirmed it.”
Ehrlichman's Report - Frost moves on to another report on Watergate by former aide John Ehrlichman, the so-called “modified, limited hangout,” and the offer of $200,000 in cash to Ehrlichman and fellow aide H. R. Haldeman for their legal fees. Nixon had told the nation that Ehrlichman would produce an informative and factual report on Watergate, even though he knew by then that Ehrlichman was himself heavily involved in the conspiracy (see August 15, 1973). “That’s like asking Al Capone for an independent investigation of organized crime in Chicago,” Frost observes. “How could one of the prime suspects, even if he was the Pope, conduct an independent inquiry?” Instead of answering the question, Nixon ducks into obfuscation about what exactly constitutes a “prime suspect.”
Nixon Begins to Crack - Reston later writes that, looking back on the interview, it is at this point that Nixon begins to “crack” in earnest. Frost has cast serious doubts on Nixon’s veracity and used Nixon’s own words and actions to demonstrate his culpability. Now Frost asks a broader question: “I still don’t know why you didn’t pick up the phone and tell the cops. When you found out the things that Haldeman and Ehrlichman had done, there is no evidence anywhere of a rebuke, but only of scenarios and excuses.” Nixon responds with what Reston calls a long, “disjointed peroration… about Richard the Isolated and Richard the Victimized… Nixon was desperate to move from fact to sentiment.” But Nixon is not merely rambling. Woven throughout are mentions of the guilt of the various White House officials (but always others, never Nixon’s own guilt), apology, mistakes and misjudgments. Clearly he is hoping that he can paint himself as a sympathetic figure, victimized by fate, bad fortune, and the ill will of his enemies. (Haldeman is so outraged by this stretch that he will soon announce his intention to tell everything in a book—see February 1978; Ehrlichman will call it a “smarmy, maudlin rationalization that will be tested and found false.”) Nixon says he merely “screwed up terribly in what was a little thing [that] became a big thing.”
Crossroads - Frost tries to ease an admission of complicity from Nixon—perhaps if hammering him with facts won’t work, appealing to Nixon’s sentimentality will. “Why not go a little farther?” Frost asks. “That word mistake is a trigger word with people. Would you say to clear the air that, for whatever motives, however waylaid by emotion or whatever you were waylaid by, you were part of a cover-up?” Nixon refuses. Behind the cameras, Nixon staffer Jack Brennan holds up a legal pad with the message “LET’S TALK” (or perhaps “LET HIM TALK”—Reston’s memory is unclear on this point). Either way, Frost decides to take a short break. Brennan hustles Reston into a room, closes the door, and says, “You’ve brought him to the toughest moment of his life. He wants to be forthcoming, but you’ve got to give him a chance.” He wouldn’t confess to being part of a criminal conspiracy, and he wouldn’t admit to committing an impeachable offense. Nixon’s staff has been arguing for days that Nixon should admit to something, but Brennan and Reston cannot agree as to what. Reston later writes that Nixon is at a personal crossroads: “Could he admit his demonstrated guilt, express contrition, and apologize? Two years of national agony were reduced to the human moment. Could he conquer his pride and his conceit? Now we were into Greek theater.” When the interview resumes, Nixon briefly reminisces about his brother Arthur, who died from meningitis at age seven. Was Frost using the story of his brother to open Nixon up? “We’re at an extraordinary moment,” Frost says, and dramatically tosses his clipboard onto the coffee table separating the two men. “Would you do what the American people yearn to hear—not because they yearn to hear it, but just to tell all—to level? You’ve explained how you got caught up in this thing. You’ve explained your motives. I don’t want to quibble about any of that. Coming down to sheer substance, would you go further?” Nixon responds, “Well, what would you express?” Reston will later write, “Every American journalist I have ever known would shrivel at this plea for help, hiding with terror behind the pose of the uninvolved, ‘objective’ interviewer. The question was worthy of Socrates: Frost must lead Nixon to truth and enlightenment.” Frost gropes about a bit, then lists the categories of wrongdoing. First, there were more than mere mistakes. “There was wrongdoing, whether it was a crime or not. Yes, it may have been a crime, too. Two, the power of the presidency was abused. The oath of office was not fulfilled. And three, the American people were put through two years of agony, and… I think the American people need to hear it. I think that unless you say it, you’re going to be haunted for the rest of your life…”
Apology and Admission - Nixon’s response is typically long, prefaced with a rambling discussion of his instructions to speechwriter Ray Price to include his own name with those of Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s in the speech announcing their resignations “if you think I ought to” (see April 29, 1973), a litany of all the good things he did while president, and a short, bitter diatribe against those who had sought to bring him down. He never committed a crime, he insists, because he lacked the motive for the commission of a crime.
Terrible Mistakes - But all this is prelude. Nixon shifts to the core of the issue: he had made terrible mistakes not worthy of the presidency. He had violated his own standards of excellence. He deliberately misled the American people about Watergate, he admits, and now he regrets his actions. His statements were not true because they did not go as far as they should have, and “for all of those things I have a deep regret… I don’t go with the idea that what brought me down was a coup, a conspiracy. I gave ‘em the sword. They stuck it in and twisted it with relish. I guess if I’d been in their position, I’d’a done the same thing.” Nixon will not, or perhaps cannot, plainly admit that he broke the law in working to conceal the facts surrounding Watergate, but he does admit that after March 21, 1973, he failed to carry out his duties as president and went to “the edge of the law.… That I came to the edge, I would have to say that a reasonable person could call that a cover-up.” Reston notes that Nixon has just admitted to a standard of guilt high enough for a civil court if not a criminal court. But Nixon isn’t done. [Reston, 2007, pp. 137-155]
Calls Resigning a 'Voluntary Impeachment' - “I did not commit, in my view, an impeachable offense,” he says. “Now, the House has ruled overwhelmingly that I did. Of course, that was only an indictment, and it would have to be tried in the Senate. I might have won, I might have lost. But even if I had won in the Senate by a vote or two, I would have been crippled. And in any event, for six months the country couldn’t afford having the president in the dock in the United States Senate. And there can never be an impeachment in the future in this country without a president voluntarily impeaching himself. I have impeached myself. That speaks for itself.” Resigning the presidency (see August 8, 1974), he says, was a “voluntary impeachment.” [Guardian, 9/7/2007]
Reactions - Frost and his researchers are stunned at Nixon’s statements, as will the millions be who watch the interview when it is broadcast. [Reston, 2007, pp. 137-155] In 2002, Frost will recall, “I sensed at that moment he was most the vulnerable he’d ever be, ever again. It seemed like an almost constitutional moment with his vulnerability at that point.… I hadn’t expected him to go as far as that, frankly. I thought he would have stonewalled more at the last stage. I think that was probably one of the reasons why it was something of a catharsis for the American people at that time that he had finally faced up to these issues, not in a court of law, which a lot of people would have loved to have seen him in a court of law, but that wasn’t going to happen. So—he’d been pardoned. But faced up in a forum where he was clearly not in control and I think that’s why it had the impact it did, probably.” [National Public Radio, 6/17/2002] Not everyone is impressed with Nixon’s mea culpa; the Washington Post, for one, writes, “He went no further than he did in his resignation speech two and a half years ago,” in a story co-written by Watergate investigative reporter Bob Woodward. [Washington Post, 4/30/2007] This interview will air on US television on May 26, 1977. [Guardian, 5/27/1977]

Entity Tags: David Frost, Bob Woodward, James Reston, Jr, Arthur Nixon, Ray Price, Richard M. Nixon, John Dean, Jack Brennan, John Ehrlichman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike